"This is hallowed ground--use of it is a privilege." Theodor Swem's words ring very true for us as we pass through the dramatic landscape of Gates of the Arctic National Park & Preserve. The most consistent and powerful emotion we have felt as we travel across this vast stretch of largely protected wilderness that flanks the Brooks Range (Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, Gates of the Arctic & Noatak parks) is that of gratitude. Gratitude for the opportunity to experience a wild place where caribou migrate in the tens of thousands, where tiny Northern Wheatears make their summer home after a long trek from eastern Africa, where we can remember what it means to be humbled. Gratitude for the foresight of key individuals and a conservation movement born largely of reverence and respect. These public lands are a gift to us all and provide the backdrop for the age-old drama of the arctic to continue. We camped just outside of Anaktuvuk Pass last night and hiked into town this morning under a light drizzle. Steep rocky peaks dressed in fall's yellows and reds jut up all around us. The weather the past few days has been sunny and warm, and our bodies have loved the relatively light loads and firm walking. Abundant blueberries provide a welcome excuse for an occasional sprawl on the tundra--I think we enjoy the soft moss bed as much as the taste of tart berries! For the first time on this journey, we didn't camp alone last night. We met another hiker at the Anaktuvuk River and enjoyed swapping stories before a rainstorm sent us to our tents.
We picked up our packrafts and food resupply from the post office (thanks Ash!) and are getting geared up to head out on the John River tomorrow morning. This is our last planned town stop before Kotzebue so we're enjoying a few amenities before leaving. What we will miss most in the next few weeks is not a shower or a proper meal (though they are awfully nice!), but the pleasant surprises of town visits. In every community we've visited, we've found kindness and generosity, often in unexpected places. We've learned so much from people with different lifestyles but shared human values. And hearing from all of you via the blog (a new experience for us), email, phone, and thoughtful notes in our resupply boxes is such a treat. It's not that we feel lonely when we're out but simply that the input from others has helped to shape our journey in a very positive way. For me, this has been the biggest surprise of the past 5 months. I didn't expect that venturing out into the wilderness would provide such a strong sense of human connection--but many of the best things in life are impossible to predict.